Don’t lie. I know those of you who are of a certain age immediately started humming under your breath when the title of this blog post kaboomed across your field of vision.
Or, if you didn’t, you seriously need to brush up on your 1980s prog rock. Like, seriously.
In any case, today’s blog post isn’t really about broken and/or lonely hearts, or even about the blessed 1980s. It’s about this: sometimes it isn’t better to live your life so carefully that you never have to deal with disappointment or heartbreak. Disappointment sucks, but it doesn’t suck as badly as never trying at all.
Over the past month, I have sent out five stories to various places in the hope that they’d get picked up for publication. Luckily, thankfully, two of them were. Those of you who are good at maths will, by now, have figured out that this means three of them weren’t.
Three stories – which were labours of love and many hours’ devotion – fell at the first hurdle. They weren’t a good fit for the publication to which I chose to send them, or they didn’t meet the ‘brief,’ or they just weren’t to the editors’ tastes, or they were plainly rubbish. I’ll never really know which, if any, of these reasons meant that my stories didn’t make it; editors tend to be polite and kind when they send you rejection letters. They don’t laugh at you or tell you to stick to the day job or make horrible suggestions as to what you can do with your worthless work – they instead apologise that they can’t fit you in this time, and wish you well with finding another home for your story. Sometimes, if they’re particularly kind, they’ll tell you all the things they enjoyed about what you wrote. I really appreciate this, and it really is the nicest way to be let down that I know of. However, no matter how gentle a rejection is, there’s just one inescapable rub about it: it’s a rejection.
Two of the rejected stories, in particular, were ones I loved. I wrote them with such joy, feeling exhilarated at where my imagination was bringing me, marvelling at how much I enjoyed putting the words on the page. They were written to fit a particular theme (which means placing them elsewhere may be tricky, but I’ll certainly try), and I felt I had a handle on it. In short, I had high hopes for these stories. I worked hard on the dialogue, on the setting, on the characterisation; I strove to find striking images, and I thought carefully about plot. I enjoyed the final product in both cases, and I still feel – rejections notwithstanding – that these stories are two of my best. I knew I’d been rejected because it took the editors a long time to get in touch with me – the longer it is between submission and response, usually, the lower your chances – but a tiny spark of hope still lingered right up until the second I read the words ‘thank you for your interest, but we will not be publishing your work.’
Of course I wish I’d been accepted. I wouldn’t have written and submitted the stories otherwise. And, of course, it hurts to be told ‘no.’ As I wrote before, in this long-ago post, I worried when I was new at the writing game that I’d take criticism and rejection too personally, and that I’d end up being crushed by it. I have form for this sort of thing; I’ve never been good at separating myself from the things I do, and when my work is snubbed I feel it as a personal sting. But, I’m glad to report that I took these rejections in the spirit in which they were intended – which is, of course, kindness and generosity – and it didn’t take me too long to get over my disappointment and start focusing on the future.
I’m making a list of places which might be interested in the stories, and I’ve sent polite ‘thank you for your kind reply’ emails to the editors concerned (for it’s very important always to be polite and professional, even when one has been turned down). I’ve re-read the stories concerned with an eye to edits and improvements, and I’ve relived my pleasure in creating them. At the end of the day, I have two stories I’m proud of, and that’s worth a mountain of rejections.
So, sometimes it’s not better to be the owner of a lonely heart instead of the owner of a broken heart. Sometimes, your heart needs to be broken in order to find the way forward – and, take it from me, hearts can and do heal. Keep writing, keep submitting, be polite to those who reject you, and get back on the horse. Rejection happens to everyone. It doesn’t mean the end of your writing career – on the contrary, each ‘no’ will make you look at your own work in an even more critical light, and that will bring improvements and innovations into your writing. In short, it helps you to hone your craft better than almost anything else.
I wish there was an easier way to do it, but if there is, I haven’t found it yet.